The 4th Tour de Kärnten started last week with a 21k time-trial in blood-boiling 35 deg C and merciless sun. I was the sole Phoenix rider against some top amateurs and ex-pro’s in the continental cycling scene, with the likes of Stefan Kirchmair who won the Haute Route last year. The undulating TT course suited me well, but I was surprised to score a 2nd place in the opening stage with a narrow deficit of just 0.9 seconds.
Stage 2 was a mountain road race. The plan was to stay close to the front for as long as possible and, legs permitting, throw in the cheeky attack towards the end. On the penultimate climb I opened up a small gap towards the top and decided to go flat out on the descent. The downhill was a kamikaze with 18% slopes on a criminally poor road surface. I was out of sight at the bottom of the last climb and pushed on. After a tough 6k on a modest 5-6% slope I crossed the line for stage glory and grabbed the blue jersey with a gap of 50 seconds.
Next morning I woke up looking out of the window in disbelief as big snowflakes started coming down a grey sky. The stage was shortened as a result, but still challenging. A solo attack went almost from the gun with me staying in the chase group. Again on the penultimate climb I attacked, got clear and started to chase the sole leader but punctured on the descent waiting several minutes for a spare wheel. Plummeting down through the mist I managed to catch the main group (solo rider was still clear) just before the bottom of the finishing climb, which was a cruel 5k at an average ~12%. Naturally the gruppetto split in pieces and I churned my natural rythm, slowly pulling away from the other riders. In the end I managed 2nd place on the stage, but increased the lead in the overall to just over 3 minutes.
Stage 4 was always going to be decisive with four big climbs in poor weather. It had cooled down to single-digit degrees and the rain was relentless. I attacked 40k from the finish, praying not to puncture. Apparently most contenders were taken by surprise and didn’t chase, leaving me with a sweet solo stage win, a gap of 4 minutes to the chasers and some very wet clothes. The lead in the GC was now a reassuring 7 minutes.
Stage 5 (mountain time trial) again was shortened due to snow, now only 8.8k long with 900m (!) of climbing. The 30s start interval and the steep slope meant that you could see competitors almost from the start. Overtaking the main contenders I managed to finish in just over 33min, and 1min 43 sec ahead of 2nd placed Stefan Kirchmair.
On the last day, for stage 6, I escaped with 3 others in a breakaway early on, comprising eventual 2nd-placed and 3rd-placed rider. We worked together well until some 10k from the gentle uphill finish, when I went with an attack to split the group in two. In the end I secured stage win number 4 and the overall win in a great event I can only recommend to anyone who wants to make the effort of travelling abroad to ride.
The Lead up to this race was to cycle very fast all month and get plenty of rest, having done a lot of slow long riding all year. Cycling went ok, fast two hours around regents park and sprinting and racing anything that moved on the way home on my commute. It was all about speed, the endurance training done, and 3 days off the bike before Saturday.
Sleeping didn’t go so well. The plan was to race through the first night and kick on Sunday morning hopefully till the evening on day two. The reality was work peaked physically Wednesday, Thursday and Friday when one of my labourers didn’t come in. This saw me knee deep in concrete all day Friday. Late night route planning all week and the race brief at Look Mum No Hands on Thursday meant no early nights. And after going to bed about 11 pm on Friday night, had a bolt upright in the bed panic attack. My Di2 batteries had not been charged. 1.5 hr to charge each one meant a sleepless night.
At 5am, Ethan over from Switzerland (who was our guest) and I cycle down to the start from home along a car free mall. Cordoned off for Ride 100. To glorious sunshine and a great turn out from Trilondon. And Tamala from London Phoenix CC.
First to Paris, was in my mind. Nothing wrong with a few delusions of grandeur. So that meant first to Dover. My Route was planned along the A2, but to get out of London was the Old Kent Road, A20 then A2 (maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner). There was a fantastic atmosphere at the start with riders from all over the world chatting and starring at each other. Danielle and the boys being at the start made me so proud.
Big Ben strikes 8 long slow dongs and we’re off. I’m in the last row and take it easy to Elephant and Castle, as this was a neutral zone. Suddenly, all hope of 1st to Dover has gone as the front fast bunch were out of sight. As we turned Elephant and Kill roundabout, groups branched off left and right, no-one follows me up the Old Kent Rd. Straight, traffic free run till I merge onto A2 where I meet the Greek peloton already on the A2, pass them and start to motor along on the Aeros. About 3 miles up the road, traffic merging from the left include a tight fast group of TransContinetal racers. I adjust to hit the front and lead them down a long hill. Then tuck in behind, keen to meet fellow cyclists, drafting tolerated to Dover. And discover it contains Kristof the machine, Josh Ibbett, Richard Dunnet and a few more, it’s the lead group. The ride down to Dover was fast, very fast, the fastest I’ve ever cycled. Keen on making it a race from the start I broke away 3/4 way down. Silly really, against a pack of strong riders, but when they reel me in we were minus 1. Just before Dover it got quiet hilly and the group upped the pace and dropped me and another, I rolled into Dover looking at my watch, it was 11.30 and my ferry was booked for 1.30. So I tried to change to an earlier one. Earliest I could get was 12.55 the others got on an 12.45 am one. In the end my ferry was delayed till 2 so I’d lost 2 hours in Dover. And racers that got to dover later than me left before me. This didn’t really bother me as it was nice to meet up with the bunch. I ate a Burger King in Dover and rested the legs.
On the boat there was about 20 cyclists, a weird bunch. When we all disembarked, again a split accrued at the first round about, half going right, half going left. And in the corner of my eye I spotted no.50, Matthias Muller, and thought if our paths would ever cross again. Here my route line on the Garmin 500 was a bit patchy and after a few wrong turns, Ishmael caught up to me quizzing me about a route down to Paris. I thought that makes two of us. The blind leading the blind. That’s when Steffan appeared and seemed to know Ishmael from the Paris-Brest-Paris audax and a bit more organised with the route mapped out on his Garrime 800. We rode into a strong headwind together the thought of drafting was in my mind and to be fair we rode side by side or spread out as much as we could. One point, three abreast chatting for a long time. It felt like the 3 Amigos as we were all 46 and planned on riding straight to Paris non stop at a similar speed. Which, by the way, was flat out. I realised we’d all trained for this and with a slight taper in the days before and the adrenalin of an insane race ahead of us it felt like we were cruising. Passed a few from non delayed ferries who’d got a head start.
Relentlessly we rode through the night, the wind and the rain lashed us. Stopping only to buy food and water. Which by 2am became a problem, searching every shut petrol station for a water tap to no avail. At this stage I felt stronger than the other 2 but without a route felt stuck. We flew though the outskirts jumping all the lights of Paris and thanks to Stefan’s Garmin 800, as Ishmael was going oldskool with maps and my Garmin 500 line not up for fast riding, we descended on a weary TCR team at 5am UK time at CheckPoint 1.
I was astounded to find we were joint 3rd. Ishmael and Steffen stopped to refuel and rest. I felt good for a few more miles and kicked on just to give us a little space as it was meant to be solo, until I was well and truly out of Paris and In the French countryside. Stopped about 6ish when it started to rain again and set up the hammock in a copse between roads.
Started when I woke in my hammock around 3 hours later feeling surprisingly fresh. Rain was a bit lighter so packed everything away and set my route up on the Garmin and headed off in search of food and water. After an hour or so of riding and stopping for food, pastries, fruit and coffee, I spotted a cyclist In the distance and took at least 2 hours of fast riding along straight undulating Roman roads to catch up, so was glad of the carrot. It was Ishmael who was on a similar course to Switzerland.
We cycled on together side by side through a rather heavy thunderstorm and sheltered in the most conveniently placed KFC smack bang in the middle of a biblical shower. Looking out the huge glass wall of the first floor fast food restaurant at the rain lashing down knowing we’d stopped just at the right time gave me a fantastic sense of being lucky in the moment which was what this race would be all about. After chicken, Ishmael had itchy pedals and peddled off. I stayed a while then peddled off too, glad to go separate ways. Going solo in the long run was more satisfying. About 6pm that evening I was done in, really done in, and thought to rest at the first convenient place as it was more a case of trying to catch up on sleep from a busy week in London rather than the race. Which, lucky for me, was a lovely country hotel La Grange Du Relais €45 and a €10 plate de jour which turned out to be a big tripe sausage. I tried and failed to eat. Oh well you can’t win them all. It was a lovely feeling sitting in a busy country restaurant in the centre of rural France having cycled there from London. Calm and relaxed the hustle and bustle of London life left behind, a break from work. A little bit of me time, it felt like the beginning of an amazing holiday, or so I thought. Showered, fed and well rested I was up at 3am and on the road by 3.15am.
The holiday was over before it began. Still dark damp and cold. What happened to August. By the time the sun rose Danielle was on the phone shouting at me I’d let slip my joint 3rd to 15th or 16th as many had rode on through most of the night. This spooked me, the holiday was over. As it dawned on me no sleep was the name of the game and last night was probably going to be my last in a bed for sometime. Annoyed for allowing myself the luxury of an 9 hour stop in the middle, not even the middle, the bloody beginning of an endurance race. I felt I had to try and pull something big out of the bag.
This year I was greatly inspired by Lee Francourt who attempted to cycle round the world faster than anyone else. He pulled some pretty big rides off to keep his goal alive and a lot of them were achieved by mental strength alone, failure not being an option. This ride was about testing ones self so I thought if I could ride to the Stelvio pass in Italy from the centre of France through Switzerland and Austria over 600km and 8000m climbing crossing the alps twice, that would be a pretty big ride. So I tried.
Apart from food stops and one hour sleep in a bus stop in Austria, riding over the french countryside, through Basel over the boarder into Switzerland and instead of heading down along its lakes I headed across along the Rhine valley with the border of Germany. I had both routes, this one through Austria and over the the Alps at the Arlberg pass in the St Anton ski resort was 40k longer than heading down and over the Fluela pass but almost 1000m less climbing and by the sounds of it an easier route. Pulling out of Basel in Switzerland around 5 o’clock rush hour was a bit slow but when the traffic eased and the road opened up it was very fast, very smooth and very safe. Looking back it’s hard to imagine how I rode so fast for so long not knowing when I’d sleep or eat. You can’t imagine something like this. You can only do it. I don’t think I stopped once in Switzerland just to take a photo of me and the river Rhine for proof to myself least I forget I went through so quick and a food stop in Aldi for an 8 pack of snickers chocolate milk and a big bag of fresh cherries.
What struck me about both Switzerland and Austria was the wealth, it was plane to see in the architecture, roads and general feel, everything was neat and tidy, well thought out, there was a purpose and structure. Austria got a bit hilly and I had to keep my focus in the cold, damp, dark, rewarding myself with a fresh cherry on each climb. Up down, up down I was getting tired having spent almost 22 hours in the saddle when I was presented with a mirage. In the middle of the darkness the magic golden M’s shone down before me. A 24 hour Mc Donald’s, a double expresso a large coke and a double cheese burger never went down so well. I was in auto pilot by this stage and got back on the bike and started peddling like a robot. Having no idea of how far I’d come or how far and how much climbing I had left as my Garmin died and I needed the dynamo to power my lights. Routing by a photo on the phone of the route through RW GPS maps.
At 5am the rain got heavy, so again, in the right place at the right moment a very alpine log cabin bus stop appeared. I rolled out my sleeping bag on the bench and got in. I was in Austria. Very cosy I set my alarm for 7 but woke at 6am when a bus pulled up. My whole body was shaking with cold, fear and excitement and after just one hours sleep got back onto my bike back into zombie ghost rider mode and peddled silently through the dawn mist, I climbed higher and higher through long empty tunnels snaking through the mountainsides and up over the alps cresting the Arleberg around 9am. Danielle was on the phone all anxious as to why’d I gone so high from check point 2. She thought I might be lost which instantly made me question my route and if I might have gone the wrong way completely I told Danielle to give me a break I’d been riding now for over 30 hours and not to stress me out, there were a couple of mountains in the way called the Alps. She told me a few other riders were closer to Cp2. But I worked out they had to climb the Fluela pass, no mean feat because we had to approach the Stelvio from the east side via a village called Prato. Which meant a double assault on the Alps. I had done my first climbing so descent after descent I zoomed closer and closer to check point 2 and Danielle rang to tell me my blue dot was moving forward fast while my closet rival Ishmael was in slow motion as he climbed the Fluela pass. I rested by the lakes high above Prato at Lago di Resia Rechensee, my whole body was still shaking. I ate breakfast and dried out a bit with a huge sense of achievement as I knew I’d rode myself back into the sharp end of the race. After breakfast I dropped like a stone into Pratto listening to some traditional Irish music by the chieftains a fast reel that makes you woop out loud. I got to Prato and climbed up the Stelvio pass to claim 4th place at CP2. On the way up I stopped at the first water trough to dunk my head in and filled my Peddled no67 cap with ice cold water. It wasn’t that hot but boy did I need waking up. Half way up I filled my bottles from a fresh spring, natural water from the area you are cycling always gives you special powers. Towards the top Richard Dunnet passed me descending and Mike Hall cycled up with me to take a few photos. Feeling faint towards the end I had to stop and rest and gather my last reserve for the final effort. I still could not believe I was in the front runners, always thinking that the long distance specialists were going to swamp me. I had to start believing in myself. Aware the weather can change in minutes atop a mountain, yes a mountain, I’d just climbed up one of Europe’s highest paved roads on top of the Alps after 37 hours flat out to get there. That was awesome, I’d actually impressed myself, so this time keen to stay ahead resisted the temptation to stay with the company of the TCR team. I remember giving everyone a big hug at the top. I was full of love. When you remove yourself from the everyday mundane and push yourself mentally and physically the emotions heighten. It felt good to feel human again. Looking back, stopping in France that night for so long oblivious to the race unfolding around me was not such a bad move. I needed to get rid of the fatigue I’d brought with me from London life. And putting pressure on myself to claw my way back into the race, unlocked the potential within.
I descended bathed in sunlight. On the way down at the bottom I meet Ismael going up and stopped to shack his hand and chat. I was glad I’d rode with him earlier and there was recognition on both sides as to what we had achieved and I spurred him on to make a real race of it. Further down I meet Mathias Muller and encouraged him also and thought that might not be the last I see of him he, had a look in his eyes I recognised. Unbeknownst to me both were caught in another heavy thunder storm at the top. I stopped in Pratto at the bottom of the decent at the same supermarket I had been to early that year with Luis and Britta from Trilondon when we did the Maratona sportive. That seemed such a long time ago. I was starting to feel the pressure of being chased and rushed round the supermarket. I was tired and felt very alone and sad. I needed to rest, so descending out of the valley I looked for somewhere to hang the hammock. The whole valley was full of small apple saplings which would not take the weight of the hammock and after a few in and outs of the regions orchids, eventually found a group of mature plum trees next to an irrigation ditch. So pitched up the Hammock before dusk. Just as it got dark I saw flashes of lighting and the wind picked up to a gail. The rain came down so quick and heavy that it made a river under the hammock and within minutes washed away the steaks I’d pinned the rain sheet down with and in seconds the hammock, sleeping bag and me were soaking. I had to climb out and figure out what to do, pack up or bed down. I couldn’t face packing up. I was desperate, so I tied one string from the fly sheet to the bike and the other I tried to anchor to a large stone, but the wind was so strong it kept blowing it away. Eventually, at times like these, you rack your brains for a solution as failure is not an option. Cold, wet and tired I had to come up with something, and fast. Eureka, a small Leatherman knife in my kit for such occasions. I was able to stab its blade into the saturated ground deep enough for it to hold. I then rolled the big rock over it to weight it down and tied the fly sheet to the knife.I crawled into the soaking sleeping bag and hammock not sure what to do next. Luckily although wet, I was not cold and eventually a warm moist sauna like atmosphere ensued and I was lulled to sleep by the pelting rain on the fly sheet.
Set the alarm for 3am another long sleep but my legs were burning with fatigue and I needed to balance speed with endurance. It was at this point in the race I told myself to commit totally to speed and efficiency and give it my all. Getting a head start on the completion and keen to chase Richard who I passed while climbing the Stelvio. This also beat the traffic and a good idea as getting out of the mountains through the valleys involved quite a few tunnels, traversing through these in traffic is a nightmare. The bike had developed a tick and my legs were covered in a thick grease from the chain as I had oiled it too much in Basel. I was on the look out for bike shop that was open.
All down hill to the coast with some good fast roads I dropped into the aeros and put the rave music on. I covered 200 miles in 13 hours including stopping twice to eat. I was happy to say goodbye to the mountains for a while. Passing through a small village after lunch I spotted €100,000 worth of carbon racing bikes parked up outside a small restaurant and thought a bike shop might not be that far away. I pulled in and saw two or three tables of the coolest looking cyclist on the planet decked out in pristine racing colours, ITALIANS. Rather embarrassed, filthy and stinking, I tried to explain I was looking for a bike shop. Someone shrugged and a few looked away in ignorance or disgust I’m not sure which. I felt even more embarrassed, so I rang Danielle and prayed she would answer. Danielle’s fluent in Italian. Not only that she’s got a telephone manner that shouts sex. Luckily she answered, I explained the problem with the bike and passed the phone over to one of the pro looking Italians instantly his eyes started to light up and a big smile formed across his face as Danielle worked her magic and after a 5min conversation and lots of laughing and looking at me he handed the phone back. I have no idea what was said only Danielle said follow them. So 4 or 5 got up and motioned to follow. Off we went, up a tiny narrow street, through the village to an old garage, the double doors open and a young guy rubbing the oil off his hands with a rag. Within seconds the bike was on a rack, the oil and muck cleaned off the bike and me, chain re-oiled and the gears and breaks tunned. Hand shakes, backslaps and photos all round. I gave them the tracker details and was on my way. At tea time I unpacked everything and laid it in the sun to dry out and quickly had to pack it all up again as it was raining.
Late that night I ate an amazing Italian pizza wrap and bought 2 cheese and meat pizza wraps to go from a lively joint in a beautifull square in Cervignano Del Friuli. This filled the tanks and I went on to do another 100miles that night being well feed and the roads flat and the weather good. Italy was nice. The mountain, the valleys and a big flat land near the coast which, by night time, was full of croaking frogs. I was loving the adventure and been out in front of the main pack gave me a great boost. I was flat out racing. I could see by the map I was now following the coast and the ocean was only a few km away. I wanted to see the sea but had to resist the urge to enjoy the ride too much. By now I was very happy with my bike and how every thing was performing. My body and mind were in good shape. Heading into Slovenia in the dead of night I was tired and planned to stop In the large forest between the Slovenian and Croatia boarder, smack bang in the middle. So, in pitch black darkness, apart from the beam of my front light, I pulled into the deep dark wood and began to hang my hammock in the rain. As the light from the dynamo powered down suddenly the headlights of a car on full beam were shinning through the forest directly at me. Not from the road but deep within the forest. WTF? How long had they been watching and WTF was going to happen now? The car pulled out of the forest and slowly drove away. I was too tired to pack up and by now it was lashing it down. Of the whole 1,000 acre forest I choose to pull up where the serial killer was just burying his last victim and I had potently witnessed the whole thing. No doubt he’d be back for me later. As you can imagine I had a very peaceful night. Every rustle of leaves or twig snapping had me bolt up right in terror but I was so tired I didn’t care if I was garrotted in my sleep. Someone has since told me one of the effects of sleep deprivation can be paranoia and looking back I think I was paranoid from then on drifting into unknown and unusual country’s well out of my comfort zone.
Relieved to have survived till dawn I was packed and peddling in the rain again, still climbing. I reached the boarder about 6am. Down hill into Croatia and rode into Rijeka in torrential rain so heavy I couldn’t see. So I took cover under a bus shelter. It seemed I was sharing it with a homeless man and I’m not sure who smelt worse him or me. But it prompted me to cycle 100 yards up the road to the canopy of a hotel where I was ushered into reception. The warmth and treated to a 5 star complementary buffet breakfast, it never failed to put a smile on every one I meet that grasped what was happing i.e bicycle race London- Istanbul. It felt good to put a genuine smile on their faces. I clicked onto their wifi to catch up and read a few posts from friends and one in particular prompted me to shed a tear and get back on the bike and into the rain.
From Luis, Trilondon
“If ever there was a Rider of the Apocalypse, it was Gaul. When we last saw him, an ambulance had just dropped him at his hotel after a time trial up the Ventoux in 1958. He had pushed himself hard, because it was hot that day and he hated the heat. The next day of that Tour he lost twelve minutes; the day after that, a few more, because it was still hot. Gaul was more than fifteen minutes behind the yellow jersey, he was done for.
Then came the twenty-first stage, through the Alps. Hail, black skies, storms, the end of the world from morning to night. Far out in the front of all the other riders was Gaul. The wind flogged him, the rain lashed down on him, and he took back his fifteen minutes and won the Tour”.
(The Rider by Tim Krabbe)
Rijeka looked an interesting mix of 1930s extravagance and 1960s iron curtain. When I rode along the coast I started to get battered by the wind and rain and the road was narrow for two lanes of traffic passing and either had a concrete wall, metal barrier or unprotected cliff edge making this a corridor of death as there was no escape hatch. Tourist coach after tourist coach passed within 20-30cm of me and my stress levels went sky high. I thought about Danielle and the kids they needed me was I being to selfish risking life and limb for my own jumped up ego. What to do ,scratch ,or go on risking life and limb. Josh and Richard had rode this not 12 hours earlier and there was more riders behind me to do the same. I thought “hold firm, straight and steady and you will be alright Adrian”. Eventually the traffic got lighter I think all the tourist coaches were in the morning and the sun came out, the wind dropped and life on the bike was good again. Up and down this costal ride went in and out of every small cove making a straight line very long. It was at this point a guy on a trek racing bike and frame bags similar to mine passed me and shouted out “Adrian no67″. He then turned and caught me up on the bike. I thought he was part of the race so was keen to find out who he was and how it was going for him. Turned out he was touring with his girlfriend but following the race on track leaders as we all had GPS trackers which showed all theses blue dots moving across Europe and apparently is very addictive. He had taken a 100km diversion to just say hi and wish me luck. I stopped and we waited for his girlfriend to arrive as she appeared over the horizon and took a few photos. TransContinetal groupies, yeah.
Late In the afternoon I got tired and hungry and felt filthy so stopped at one of the many small coves. Stripped down and changed into a light pair of shorts, the only change of clothing I bought but invaluable as it gave you a chance to get out of the padded bibs. Washed all my kit and me and laid it all out in the sun and lay myself in the shade and slept maybe two or three hours. When I awoke everything was dry and I ate some nuts an ice cream and a can of peas then got on the bike and began to pedal. The phone rang. Danielle had worked out Steffan had stopped at Ancona and two more were heading there. She said a ferry left at 9 pm and got into split at 6am I was impressed by her enthusiasm and interest in logistics as prior to the race she would glaze over whenever I would mention TCR. I think me being 4th had surprised and impressed her as well as me. I thought if I rode through the night I could get there before the ferry and give them a run for their money. Another big mental job. One foot in front of the other and breathe, simple. At this point, someone from my cycling club London Phoenix made this comment on there forum
“Those that make it to the ferry in Ancona this afternoon can have a relaxing evening before taking the ferry and wake up after a good night’s sleep in Croatia. I’m sure that 89 (Steffen) has had a few glasses of wine and a nice meal already. Must be horrible sitting there waiting for the ferry knowing that the two behind (Mathais Muller and Mark Thompson) are catching you up and there’s nothing you can do. Still, at least you’ve got a couple of meal buddies I guess (though they must all stink by now). Go Adrian, go! Show those lazy ferry bastards what a tough guy you are!”
I’ve got to admit this put a slight smile on my face and really fired me up. Although every one knows they took an easier option, lazy was defiantly not a word you could use. Maybe the “clever” ferry bastards would have been more appropriate. The road to split took a turn inland and the traffic was a lot less. After stocking up on food around 9pm at a supermarket ready to close I new that would be it for the night so with a couple of bananas, some dried figs, a pint of chocolate milk, some pre-packed chocolate and custard croissants, a few snickers and a quick phone call to Danielle as I was wolfing down a can of tuna I was away. The road was fast and flat and riding into the darkness I was surprised how many people were out and about on foot this late at night in relatively rural roads. I was racing a ferry in a bicycle race and went flat out pushing myself till by legs were burning with pain. I remember thinking things like this only come along once, give it your best shot. By 2am I was beat and had no water left. I always tried to keep a little food for breakfast on board but everything else had been consumed. I felt I’d have to stop and sleep and let go of the idea of catching the clever ferry bastards. After a couple of wild dog chases (thank you Trilondon for the early Regents Park tempo sessions, as they never stood a chance getting close) one pack I accelerated away from so fast gave up immediately, and looking back I saw one dog looking at the other I’m sure I heard him bark “fu€$ he was fast”. Then I saw my second mirage. This was where, yet again, success in the moment arrived in the shape of an all night carnival in a field in the middle of nowhere with music food and drink. It felt like God was watching over me as just when I had given up all hope, hope was restored. Refuelled on a massive BBQ burger and plenty of free Coca-Cola when the barman learnt of my odyssey, the race was still on and I still had a chance of beating the ferry into split. At times like this you realise the huge effect food can have on you. As just 30mins prior I was giving up the chase exhausted. Now, I’m back racing flat out. The road into split brought you high up onto a plateau and the town lay far down below all lit up with the harbour full of boats and the ocean full of shimmering blue and red lights. This really lifted my spirits after a long night in the saddle. My watch said 4am so with a long fast decent into split I knew I had a chance of getting ahead. The fact I was actually racing a ferry on my bicycle added to the whacky race like atmosphere the TransContinental has.I rolled through split out the other side refilled the food stocks at an all night garage as I didn’t plan on stopping long today.
And, on the outskirts, around 5am, I rolled out my sleeping bag at the back of a petrol station and set the alarm for 6.15am. I needed every second of sleep and I thought they’d have to dock disembark and get through split. This time the smile was almost a laugh out load. Mwah ha ha ha ha ha AHA hahaha, evil laugh. The race and lack of sleep will do this to you. I was so fired up for what the day would bring. Again I felt lucky I’d had the drama of racing the ferry to Split. It had given me a strong goal to aim for and the day ahead was already mentally mapped out, “stay ahead of the chasing pack for as long as possible”.
When I woke I was able to use the petrol station wash room and loo which was a bonus. It felt like a 5 star bivy with ensuite bathroom. I’d thrown my London Phoenix top into the sink while sorting out my gear and when I grabbed it the sink held onto it. The logo on the zipper had caught in the plug-hole grate. Can you fucking believe it? The lazy ferry bastards are descending on me any second now and I’m playing tug of war with a sink. Eventually the sink won and swallowed my zipper leaving me with my chest to the wind for the next 1,000 miles. I knew Steffan, Mark and Mathais would be up for riding right to CheckPoint 3 in one go having spent 10 hours on the ferry. I also new it was only a matter of when, not if, they caught me, as I was not sure I could keep up this insanity much longer. So, not wanting to go down without a fight, I needed to stretch the ride out tacking it very conservatively up the hills to protect the already fatigued legs but hammer the descents to stay ahead for as long as possible. I felt like one of those TDF lone breakaways that know they’re going to get caught. This coastal road towards Debrovenick was a marked improvement to yesterday’s. Much wider and everything seemed nicer. The weather was beautiful and we all had a lovely tail wind. And i was racing which is what I love to do most on the bike. Again the excitement kept be mentally motivated.
I managed to stay ahead till late afternoon when Steffan finally caught up to me just after Debrovenick and we rode together for a while. In the afternoon heat I had stopped slightly earlier before Steffan had caught me up at a house to ask for water as there was a long stretch of coast there had been no shops. So the first thing I did when Steffan arrived was check his water bottles, and as I had suspected empty. Looks like I was going to be in front a little bit longer. Eventually he had to stop at the first shop which gave me another 10k out front but buy this time it had been 28 hours pushing hard with an hours sleep in between and I was well and truly cooked. I stopped just before the boarder with Montenegro at a supermarket to rest for 10 minutes and eat an ice cream and stock up again on food more nuts, dried figs and pre-packed croissants. I found all these light and easy to eat on the move. As I was paying I saw Steffan pass from inside the shop and later he told me he hadn’t seen my bike outside the shop and had pushed all the way to mount Lovcen believing I was in front. A great effort on his part that put him in 4th place to the end. Bravo Steffen. Long 1 mile queues were on both border crossings of Herzegovina and Bosnia and all the passengers and drivers looked so fed up. I sailed past them all, right to the front of the queue. In between boarders there were stops for fresh coffee to keep me awake and fresh green figs. Lots of them. I put about 15 in a plastic bag biting the hard stalks off but leaving the skin on. They congealed into a jam in the plastic bag in the heat of my back pocket and made the nicest thing I’ve ever eaten. Like a giant energy gel.
Entering Montenegro the scenery changed again and it looked mysterious. The first town was a bit lively like a bandits town. Desperate to eat I pulled into the bus depot restaurant and had a great feed and did a great bit of people watching as there was a very varied cross section of people getting on and off busses. I cycled on to the Bay of Kotor and knew I couldn’t attempt the climb up Lovcen without a bit of sleep. And I needed a good wash so stopped at a bay side beach and had a dip and wash in the bay of Kotor floating on my back after so long on the bike was like being in Space. I then rolled out the sleeping bag for a quick nap. Not sure how long I was asleep but was woken at night by a group of teenagers standing practically over me discussing how they would rob me. Or at least that was what I thought they were discussing as my Montenegrin is a bit rusty. It was a good idea to get going. The cycle along the bay was long but pleasant with all the lights, bars, music and people. I stopped off again for more coffee and a chocolate sauce crepe and discussed my route with an old Indian hippy. Then past a massive rave in the main square next to the old castle where I got stopped by the police as I probably looked off my head. He looked deep into my eyes paused and waved me on when he saw I was most defiantly off my head but on a mission.
Incredibly, I bumped into Mathais at the foot of the climb up Lovcen and we climbed it together swapping life stories as it was a very long climb and we were going very slowly. The Bay of Kotor far down below full of music and simmering lights and the sky far above full of twinkling stars and meteor showers, another high point, in more ways than one. As we neared to the top ever so slightly the pace quickened, then again and again until we were both flat out. It became obvious to me the race was back on so after 1000 miles in the legs over mountains, rivers, oceans and boarders here we are in the middle of the night battling it out like two schoolboys riding into the darkness. I pull away but have no idea where I’m going and I know the top is riddled with pathways and wrong turns so at the 1st fork in the road I had to make a decision left or right I went right and the road started to descend. If I’d gone wrong I’d have to climb so I waited half way down the descent and as the seconds turned to minutes I thought i’d blown it. Mathais would be king of the mountain , I turned around and began to climb back up the way I’d come when In the distance I saw his light coming towards me fantastic I’d gone the right way I about turned and rode into a slumbering CP3. We bivy’d at the picnic tables till morning and had omelettes for breakfast at the mountain top hotel. Mathaius had said he quickened the pace as he had wanted the climb to end quickly a dangerous thing to do in any cyclists company. I had quickened the pace to match his, then rode him into the dust, assert power and superiority over him and send him a message I wasn’t done yet.
Over breakfast it was looking like Mathais was claiming 5th place at CP3 as he had woken earlier than me and seen Mike Hall first to get his brevet card marked at first I wasn’t bothered but soon my blood started to boil I felt strongly about being 5th even if it was only by a few minuets. As I worked incredible hard since Westminster to make this a race. After breakfast I aired my views and both Mathais and Mike agreed to me being 5th at CP3. I was keen to head into the mountains of Montenegro then Kosovo, Macedonia and on through Bulgaria I was under no illusion this would be a tougher route than through Albania and Greece which I also had mapped. It wasn’t just a about the race, but adventure too. Sort of like the race element added to the adventure and visa versa. I can tell you a little bit of me was wanting to go Albania, Greece to keep my nearest rivals close but to be honest after climbing out of Montenegro I thought I’d beat them when I got to Bulgaria. I was also under no illusion I was going to catch anyone In front as they were too far ahead and a step up in form from me. So hanging on to 5th was the best I could wish for.
Apart from the Climbing out of Montenegro it posed another challenge and that was navigation. Up until now I had the www at my disposal through the magic of iPhone and an app that linked me to my maps created with ridewithgps which displayed and audio cued the routes for me. But the next 3 country’s were not on my tariff. So cycling around, looking for a café with free wifi and stopping to have a coffee in each one that assured me theirs was working took a couple of hours. Eventually I got logged on and took a couple of photos of the route and key junctions. Armed with this and a map I felt for the first time I was heading into the unknown. A spectacular descent into Podricia the capital nestled in a huge basin surrounded by big lumps of mountain. Straight through and into the wilds up along good traffic free roads that hug large canyons lined with turquoise rivers and people fly fishing far below. Only one way in and one way out navigating was easy. Truly spectacular, so glad I came this route. I was in awe of my surroundings. After a while though I felt almost claustrophobic hemmed in on all sides by massive walls of rock. By late evening the novelty was wearing off and I wanted out so took a smaller lane off the main road into the countryside just for a mental diversion. This bought me closer to rural Montenegro and i climbed high up through the countryside and farmhouses into a series of switch backs that never ended. This opened a door into Montenegrin rural life. Families gathering for dinner outside there houses. Hay, wood and crops stacked for the winter. I imaged what it must be like, rural life, under these conditions, unchanged in centuries. A far cry from the madness of London and there and then i justified this route. As dusk descended so did I, out the other side a little closer to the Kosovo boarder arriving in Berene. In darkness. Just before the supermarket shut I stocked up with water, bananas sandwiches and enough to see me well into the night. On one of my photos it showed a path which from experience I now knew to be rider-able but my route went around following the main road the difference was maybe 90k half of which would be climbing Also they both crossed the boarder into Kosovo at different points the quicker shorter smaller path which was preferable enters Kosovo from a lane onto what looked like a motorway and the last thing I wanted was to find I’d have to go back or I was DQ as motorways were prohibited. More on this later. So with much debate I opted for the 90k detour. It was already dark and I was tired. This was the nail in the coffin for 5th place. By the time I cycled all the way round and began the assent to the boarder it was raining hard I was out of food and water and completely exhausted. A long way from home in a strange country feeling very alone.
I have since learnt the closer boarder crossing has been closed since the conflict and possibly stilled mined. I was starting to learn boarder crossings were usually at the highest points between country’s surrounded by wilderness. Around 4am I was done for, so decided to hang up the hammock again in the wilderness of a giant forest I’d been cycling through for the last hour or so. Pouring with rain I pulled into the under growth and started to unpack mind-full of any serial killers. I spotted a dirty nappy on the ground. How’d the fu€$ did that get there. Again I was in the middle of 1000s of acres of deep dark wood. I was well off the road. And then a empty drinks can and slowly through the beam in my head torch I realised the forest was strewn with rubbish and there appeared to be a network of paths and clearings between the undergrowth. A terror suddenly gripped me that the forest was alive with people living, sleeping,and passing through. As tired as I was and as harmless as the Baltic gypsies might be, there’s always a few in every community including ours, that need to be feared. So I took the decision to keep moving. It wasn’t till I got to the boarder crossing I realised how wise a decision this was. I just about reached the boarder and got off the bike and walked I was so exhausted. At the boarder crossing I mimed I was cold, wet and tired and needed to rest awhile under their shelter, to which the guard motioned “non go” “go” to which I motioned “non” “non”. The boarder guard was like something out of a Borat movie so I motioned I’d sleep in the woods to which he shock his head and said “non” and made a face like a wild animal and brought his hands up like claws. And to top that he said ” bad men” and looked towards the darkness with a weird expression on his face. Werewolves I assumed. I couldn’t physically or mentally get back on the bike, I was finished and i needed a rest. I sat on a bench, took my soaking jacket off got my sleeping bag out and wrapped it around my shoulders and waited to see what would happen next, again he motioned for me to “go” I gave him the thousand mile stare and a Mexican stand off ensued. Soon another guard came out and motioned for me to follow. I sensed it safe to do so. He brought me round the Back to a filthy shed I guessed this was the best offer I was going to get and slept inside till first light on a three legged chair, the floor too filthy to sleep on, waking late around 9am.
Drinking a chocolate milk I’d kept for breakfast dropped into Kosovo in a misty morning at the the first main town pec I had to again to find wifi and log onto my maps take a few photos and coffees after that I was again in robot mode. Get food, water and out of town as quick as possible as the temptation to start sightseeing and the comfort of being around people after hours of loneliness on the road was hard to resist.
I liked Kosovo I don’t know why but I did. The people seemed friendly without trying. It must have been some sort of special occasion as all throughout the day I was passed by car-loads of people waving flags and beeping horns. Long lines of 10 -20 cars. I half expected to see a an automatic rifle sound off a few rounds into the sky. The landscape was rolling and I had a tailwind and the sun was shinning. I couldn’t quite work out what the vibe was here. Happy, sad, poor, not so poor, the country was indeed the most litter strewn with whole rivers choked in plastic rubbish. A couple of times my route took me off the beaten track to more rural parts and it felt surreal almost like watching a documentary on telly not believing I was actually cycling through a tiny village In the middle of Kosovo. An old man walking a cow down the middle of the street, kids playing and carting buckets of water, peering into an open door imaging what’s behind the closed door, dressed like an alien having cycled from London in a matter of days. Cycling into their world for a fleeting glimpse then gone as quick as I arrived. I didn’t feel educated enough to make any judgement only to cycle in and out of their world and just experience it.
Kosovo went without a hitch apart from being sucked under the wheels of nearly every lorry that passed. But by this stage you’ve become immune and just hold tight firm and straight my fist flat from a small wire from shredded truck tires. As I approached the road up to the boarder with Macedonia all was well. The fields were full of people working, cutting wood, bring cows in to milk, fixing fences and children were running about playing. Again the road started to climb and as I got high great views of the basin I had just cycled across opened up to me. Then all of a sudden the road stopped and turned into a track, very steep heavily ruttered and with the centre washed out from the rain running down the middle banked either side by forest. To go back was not an option and there was a way through marked on the photo of the map. Luckily for me we had another two hours of sunlight left as had it been dark I would have been too scared to attempt it. As it was, I was nervous. It was so remote I felt I was trespassing on some smugglers route between countries. I pushed my bike up, it became a hike but the views were breathtaking as the sun was setting first over Kosovo and then as I got higher over a huge plain as far as the eye could see flanked by rolling hills that went on into the horizon. The scramble (as it certainly wasn’t a walk) was a welcome diversion from 20 hours a day cycling and I enjoyed it. I probably walked for about two hours as it began to get dark I was over the other side and although the dirt covered track was very steep and resembled a dry riverbed. I decided to give the bike a go as I didn’t fancy being up their when it got really dark. Taking it very slowly i hopped, slid and manoeuvred the bike down some very steep sections in twilight. I think an experienced MTB would have been impressed given the racing frame, full bags and carbon wheels. I noticed spending so long in the saddle racing, climbing, dodging pot holes, out-running dogs, and jostling with lorries, coaches and cars that the bike became part of my skeletal structure. After about the third day any tension around the neck, shoulders and back had lifted. My arse stopped hurting and my thought process started to incorporate the bike into the central nervous system. I was becoming half-man half-bike. Thank you 25inch continental GPX 4000s as you held up to some pretty sharp rocks and ridges. This track was really steep and went on for miles and by the time it finished my hands were numb from riding the breaks. Safely into Macedonia no boarder or passport control.??? I stopped at the first shop in a small village it was just dark and the roads and streets were full of people busy coming and going. Again planning not to stop I needed night time supplies. The town was small and the shop sold plenty of processed and packaged food but little in the way of real food like bread, meat, milk and fruit as I assumed this was all produced at home. So a can of tuna and a can of peas followed by Coca-Cola and them pre-packed croissants every country and shop seemed to sell nuts and dried figs another staple in my diet. The young girl behind the counter was mesmerised by me and couldn’t stop starring and blushing. I was happy I had that effect on her. We all need cheering up and I think I made her day. I had not had the opportunity to change any currency so emptied out the contents of my wallet onto the counter. The girl carefully sifted through 3 or 4 different currency’s until she found a 2 Euro coin. She took this and then started counting out manny notes in Macedonian currency as change. This made me think about the economy in these countries. Did anyone pay tax? What subsides they were getting and how things could could be that cheap? Outside on the step when I was eating she came out and kept saying “America, America” I kept shaking my head and she started nodding her’s and kept saying “yes, America”.
I liked Macedonia too. At no time did I feel threatened or even lonely. I felt a human kindness in both countries. The next town I stopped at, the shop keeper made me a coffee. On the road again and further on I was flanked by two young guys on racing bikes and wearing lycra. Their excitement at meeting me was obvious. I pulled over and one who spoke perfect English who had worked in Canada explained they’d met someone similar the night before. I guessed it was Josh Ibbet who was 2nd and fighting really hard to hang on to it as Richard Dunnet was hard on his heels on another route through Greece. As they don’t get many racing bikes coming through, and two the same week was special, they were so happy I was happy too. They rode with me for nearly an hour in the dark and would have gone to the boarder had I let them but I needed to concentrate on the pot holes and traffic so politely took their photo and went on alone. Again, an all night ride to the border of Bulgaria up a big hill flanked by wilderness two hours of climbing and I’m done. Walking then riding I neared the boarder around sunrise and was greeted in Bulgaria by a smile. Just past the control I pulled over behind a derelict restaurant and slept for an hour I think.
Today I was going to ride straight across Bulgaria the road was long straight and relatively flat. This was were I was going to make up time lost climbing out of Montenegro and burn Mathais and Mark out of contention. After a long fast descent into Kyustendil, on a good road I stocked up on food and found a greengrocer. Green figs, 3 bananas and a punnet of strawberries. This town looked interesting and again I had to resist the temptation to dilly dally. Riding out of town I saw a small boy of about 6 walking alone along the grass verge barefooted and dressed in rags. I stopped to give him the last of my strawberries and he refused proudly smiled and carried on walking. This bought me to the first flood of tears on this journey as I thought of the privileges my own kids have at home. And prompted me to raise over £3000 for a children’s charity working in Kosovo when I got home. My heart spirit and soul sank as I rode into a head wind that nearly stopped me in my pedals. Not only that the surface was so rough, cracked and pot holed I could not even get into the aero bars to duck under the wind. It took all my strength and concentration to keep hold of the handle bars. This was the first time I’d encountered any headwind and the strong tailwind I’d been riding with since the Alps might have given be a false sense of my own strength. I imagined this is what the Paris-Roubaix must be like, a ride which never appealed to me. I had spent my far share of time on a jackhammer.
I’d researched this part of my route the road was meant to be a main one, which I thought meant a good surface. The wind was meant to be a tailwind. The danger of having expectations is that when they’re not meet its harder to accept. All chances of catching the clever ferry bastards had gone. This really pissed me off and I knew if I wanted to move on mentally. I’d have to process my feelings which went a bit like this. “You fu54ing stupid fu54ing 4unt Adrian why why why the fu54 did you come this fu54ing 4unting way”, again and again over and over at the top of my voice screaming into the wind. Anger turned to depression, then calm, then acceptance. One peddle in front of the other, breath, simple. Word went out for a wind chart and my worst fears were reality when the report came back a force 8 cross headwind which did not stop until the finish in Istanbul. The road was so long and open there was nowhere to hide. I couldn’t fight Mother Nature not for 400km I had no option than to drop into the small chain ring and spin and the focus turned to 10 days rather than 5th or 6th. I thought Mark and Mathais must of had there obsticals. The heat for one. I heard it was hot in Greece. I needed to know they were suffering too. Hour after hour I pushed into the wind after a while of spinning I thought, “come on Adrian don’t give up you can give them a run for there money”, and I’d knock it up into the big ring thinking I had the strength to increase my speed from 9mph to 13mph which is what I needed if I stood a chance of keeping up with Mathais and Mark. This might seem slow and it felt slow but that was the reality the lack of food and sleep was taking its toll. I felt my body starting to eat itself. If the cross wind changed a couple of degrees it would be behind instead of in front and I’d be cruising at 15mph. Any cyclist in front could suffer a mechanical. Josh was gearless for a section. I had to keep my race head on otherwise I’d have crashed at the 1st hotel I passed and slept for a week. But when I pushed it up a gear after 10 minutes of cycling the strength would be gone I was as weak as a kitten and needed a big proper feed and sleep I was starting to run on faith alone.
Bulgaria was a lot different to how I imagined. You could really see the Russian communist influence and I cycled through whole towns derelict were once they would have been a hive of order and productivity. Big grand civic buildings with all there windows broken, empty. A lot of wild dogs and a lot of gypsies not many shops between towns just miles and miles of open wild countryside. The road was very busy with big lorries and eastern block trucks but as there was a grass verge I didn’t feel stressed as that was the escape hatch in an emergency. At least it wasn’t raining and the strong wind kept me cool. I got very sleepy around early afternoon and lay down in the long grass next to an old derelict factory I couldn’t help thinking Bulgaria was on the decline rather than up and felt a bit sorry for it. I know communism was harsh but it was grand and Bulgaria had lost its grandeur. On Reaching Podgovia which was the half way point it was night time and I needed two things food and sleep luckily not too much of a detour was needed to get both. A takeaway cafe that fed me hot chicken, potatoes and broccoli opposite a supermarket which gave me every thing else I needed chocolate milk, ice-cream, cake and fruit. Complete with forecourt and security guard who I motioned in international give us a clue language what my intentions were. So settled down well feed well zipped up in my sleeping bag against a wall on the concrete footpath like a caterpillar for a sleep. An hour later I was up, used the restaurant next door’s bathroom and I was away. A relatively better road than the first half but very busy through out the night with heavy trucks and lorries all heading for Turkey like me, on pitch black roads I glimpsed in the corner of my headlight in the middle of the road a big red mass of skin and flesh and as I passed it not sure what kind of animal it was, only big like a sheep or large dog or even a human torso. A big lorry thundered past rolling it forwards and across towards me just missing my back wheel and off into the darkness. I thought if a lorry hit me out here in the pitch black and decided not to stop I’d probably end up a unrecognisable lump of red flesh half bike half man by morning too. Nice.
By morning I was at the boarder in Edrine it was start of day 10 and I had 24 hours to get to Istanbul. Bar a disaster I could do it. Just past the boarder control there was a truck stop cafe just open where all the drivers were having soup and bread. Pointing to the soup x 2 this went down well. To be honest I was tired battering the wind all day yesterday sucked the life out of me. The ride into Istanbul was a pretty relaxed affair even with the strong headwind I could make my cut off easily. And cruising up and down the motor ways long undulating hills with a good surface and large hard shoulder was relaxing and as the lorries passed they tooted their horns in a friendly harmonious manner. I only ever interpreted this positively and with a second motorway cafe cooking lamb kofters I was starting to fill the tank. This was turning into my victory lap of honour, as in my eyes I’d given it my best shot and was a winner with bags of time and the heat of the day rising the wind not getting any lighter I treated myself to a little afternoon snooze I deserved it. On waking my back tier was flat. I couldn’t believe my luck I was well rested feed and in the safety of a carpark. It could not have happened at a better time. I changed the tube and picked a thread like wire out always reassuring when you find the cause of a puncture. Similar to the first puncture.
Late afternoon and the motorway seemed to go on for ever. Running out of food and water and getting dark I decided to exit at the next junction to Silivri which was a seaside town with lots of people and shops and traffic. Eating a chicken kebab and stocking up with food and water I decided to keep on the coast rd rather than head back up to the motorway. The change of riding and scenery was a welcome relief to the monotonous motorway. More like riding in London it Instantly woke me up. Traffic lots of traffic. Istanbul was further than I thought the clock was ticking had I become the preverbal hare. Looking at the map I got back on the motorway after the airport and switched my Phone on as I new the route was tricky and I had mapped it to the forest then another to the cafe. Getting back on the motorway was a relief. Even though it was late, Istanbul was busy with trucks and lorries and the best place for them and me was the motorway not the surrounding A and B roads. I had the hard shoulder and they had three lanes of clear road to pass. The smaller roads through the city were not suitable for either. The only time I had to watch out was when about 8 lanes would merge from left and right but there were still large gaps in the traffic and I still had the energy to sprint across. About 3am my phone rang it was Mike Hall the race organizer “Adrian your on the prohibited motorway, I really need you to get off it immediately”. He sounded pretty nervous. I told him I was completely lost which I was and said I’d get of immediately,pulling over and climbing over a barrier and down a slope miraculously put me on the road I needed to be on. But the penny dropped I’d just cycled the last 10k on the prohibited section of motorway punishable by DQ I remember the brief, the map on the information sheet. I remember plotting a good route to avoid it but hadn’t saved it. I knew Mike had no choice but DQ me. It was written in black and white. No grey areas as it dawned on me how far I’d come and how close to finishing the tears started to come and then the flood gates opened and I could hardly see I was crying so much. I thought, get a grip it’s only a bicycle race. But it was more than that my body needed the release a good cry would give me. Tension, joy, stress, accomplishment, disappointment, fatigue, sadness, fear, happiness, you name it, I was feeling it. I didn’t stop cycling or crying but I let all those emotions flow through me like a river. I flew up the climb at Akurm full of energy and emotion tears streaming down my cheeks, cruised along the river until I saw the blue lights of the bridge which marked the finish as the cafe was just past it.
On arrival Mike had asked me to ring him as he wanted to be there. 5 missed calls and I knew he was comatose in a deep sleep. Not sure what to do I cried some more. There is a promenade opposite the cafe overlooking the bouspours and I wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag on a bench and starred out over the Bosphours. Full of peace and calmness inside after an incredible roller coaster of a ride. As it started to sink in a serenity grew inside me . Mike arrived around sunrise and we had a bit of a chat about me coming in from the prohibited section and I totally got why it was prohibited as the sections of 8 lane merging traffic was only navagatable at 3am in the morning any other time impossible to even attempt, and in heavy traffic the hard shoulder becomes an overtaking lane. Istanbul sounds good “gate way to the east” but it’s not a city to bring 90 tired cyclist into.
Anyway we came to a agreement I could ride that section again or take a 12 hour penalty. I was so relieved he did not DQ me so even with the 12 hours penalty my name will be up there 7th in 2014 TCR. I was happy and all the crying had cleared the soul but I needed to wash eat and sleep and I had completely let go of the structure and purpose that racing gives you. In a paradoxical way I had it easier then the back field of racers. The others had to fight with comfort, sleep, safety, hunger, they had choices. I didn’t give myself any accept move forwards as quickly as possible. When I awoke on a concrete forecourt to have a lie in was less preferable to getting on the bike. So when this drive was removed I couldn’t function. I rang Danielle she booked my flight out of town and a hotel for the night 1 mile away. On the way to the hotel I bumped into Steffan leaving for home we stopped for coffee and had a great chat. I only meet briefly but felt a bond.
Even though the hotel was only a mile, the road up was steep, were talking 30% pushing the bike up. Was comical but worth it for luxury. After a funny story about getting kitted out in new cloths and a 15 hour sleep and 10 course breakfast I checked out, pushed the bike down the 30% hill and joined Mathaius ,Mike and a few others at the cafe to welcome in some fellow racers. I felt so much respect for those arriving I tried to rally the energy to give them an enthusiastic welcome as I knew that’s what you needed as it’s a funny feeling finishing and might be different for each of us. But for me it was almost a disappointment or anti climax and I’m not sure but maybe it was better to experience it alone. And have a bit of time to reflect. Gunter had told me he was so full of stress and tension when he had finished he visited the blue mosque in Istanbul and sat in total quite and calm for a couple of hours to restore himself too sanity. That night I packed the bike up and shared a taxi to the airport. Next thing I was in Heathrow assembled the bike and road the 20 miles home to a house full of healthy beautiful boys a loving wife and Ted the dog. Thanks Danielle for loving, caring, and putting up with me for being my logistical and emotional support during the race. Its meant to be a solo race completely no outside help but without Danielle and all the support from Trilondon and London Phoniex CC, I don’t think I’ve had finished. Mike Hall for being Mike hall and all the riders that raced this amazing race. These racers cannot be named or placed as distance or time is irrelevant. You raced yourself and each other and the weather just to finish, beat the guy in front or stay ahead of the guy behind. You all inspired, helped and drove me to question my limitations. What the Transcontinental gave me was a belief that we are far more capable not just in cycling but in life than we think. I would recommend anyone doing this in the future to race it rather than ride it as you might just surprise yourself in more ways than one.
The Severn Bridge Road Race started in beautiful sunshine after some dreadful rain on the way to the start. I was the only Phoenix rider, and the usual suspects of pro-teams turned up (ONE cycling, NFTO, PedalHaven etc). The course was challenging with 10 laps including a 1km/7% climb with a vicious kick towards the end and in windy conditions. The first lap was neutralised to familiarise everyone with the plentiful roadworks.
Action started on lap 2, with attacks from the gun. When a ONE cycling and an NFTO rider went clear I decided it would be time to jump and got a cross with a number of other riders. We established a break of just over 10 riders (I think we lost a couple of them to normal attrition) with 3-4 ONE riders, 3 NFTO’s and 2 PedalHaven guys (rough numbers – it was a blurry vision for 3 hours for me).
The break was terrible. Attacks straight away, and not having any team mates I was a playing ball either chasing down riders or being left. So I did my fair share of turns and efforts until 3 laps from the finish two 2-rider pairs went clear. I was comfortable in the remaining 6-men chase until 10k from the finish a Di2 fail meant I was stuck in the small chain ring. Trying to put it back whilst riding I actually dropped the chain and quickly pulled over, put it on and asked the BC car how far back the bunch was. “Miles away”, was the answer, so I just cruised with bonkers cadence to the finish and came in in 10th place.
With 3 of us getting a rather last minute entry into this event, there wasn’t much time to really think about it. With this, Michelle and John set to work the day before the event and bagged van hire, with John being very kind in offering to drive and be our DS/Sogniour for the weekend.
The Journey started 6.30 from south London, picking up Bella and then Mhairi before heading to the Hog, where the first two stages were being held. There were approx 66 starters. Our aim/motto for the weekend: Have fun, stay safe, and look out for each other in the bunch…..
STAGE 1 – TT (2 laps of the hog in the ‘wrong’ direction)
With none of us being TTer’s, we just decided to give it what we could without blowing up straight away. Job done. Very respectable times; Mhairi 6.23, Bella 6.29 and Michelle 6.31. Please with our times and done by 11.15, we set to work….resting hard for just under 4 hours before our 3pm start of stage 2. 50km crit of the hog.
STAGE 2 – Hog Hill Crit
We were gridded in time order, from TT at the bottom of the circuit. It was always going to be hard for anything to split, with us thinking back to the team series, where it pretty much kept all together for the duration. This race was not that different, apart from Sarah Storey attacking and going solo for most of the race, no other attacks really stuck. We all had some time on the front, some might say I had too much time! Having digs and attacking myself a few times. Despite getting a gap, it was apparent that I was just not strong enough on my own and I was quickly reeled back in. It was fun to have a go though. Got to try these things.
There were a few accidents on the hill, predictably. Mhairi locking handlebars with another rider, me going off road (no change there) and Michelle doing well to avoid an accident in front of her on the hill.
Bunch sprint finish saw us get swamped and another accident on the hill. However, we all finished unscathed
STAGE 3 – 75 mile Road Race – Safron Walden
Think rain, real heavy rain, and flooded, gritty roads. The sort of weather where you can’t really see in front of you.
58 starters today. We rolled out into the 10k neutralised section. That was, surprisingly neutralised. We then had to wait in the pouring rain for about half an hour whilst the mens raced past. Late starts and an accident in the race had caused the delay. However, once we were off, we were off.
I was concentrating so hard to stay upright, stay safe, but not bottle it and ride hard. I was actually kind of enjoying the wet, grit and dirt. Thinking about a ride I’d done where it was mostly off road, on gravel and tracks. I zoned into this. There was a accident, punctures and some dropping out due to the distance and conditions.
We’d all found each other at points, checking we were ok and encouraging one another. I really liked this…. ‘Just look out for the red jersey’.
The next lap went by, and not seeing Michelle, I was told by another rider that she had punctured. The sun made an appearance after a couple of laps or so. Myself and Mhairi drifted around the bunch, being able to chat to one another. Both wondering about the inevitable bunch sprint. Mhairi saying that if we weren’t the right side of the bunch at the junction before the turn into finish, we’d get swamped again.
Myself and Mhairi saw the front of our lead group a few times. I allowed myself to drift back, right back. Something I am usually hesitant to do for fear of being dropped if something kicks off. However, as I drifted back, I found out a few things 1) the lead group was now only about 30 strong 2) there was a lot of freewheeling the further back you go and 3) right at the very back, were some strong riders, who I thought would definitely be contesting the sprint…..Two went off and weren’t caught.
Coming into the last bit, I found myself ‘the wrong side’ of the bunch before the junction, at least 20 or so riders back. As we turned and entered the final drag to the finish I could see Mhairi up ahead and a gap….A GAP! For the first time, I didn’t hesitate and just went for it, went for the gap. I over took quite a few riders and then my gap starting closing as someone swerved, making those in front do the same. I had to apply a little pressure to my brakes and swerve myself, but managed to finish just behind Mhairi. 11th and 12th!!
Rode back to HQ and learnt Michelle had finished too, in one piece, very happy and with the biggest smile… Michelle saying, “I met all my targets in the first 30 minutes, the rest was just a bonus”
John and Michelle kindly took care of us. Our brains had been left at the finish somewhere and stringing a comprehensive sentence together was near impossible.
The journey home was fun, Talking about the weekend and our adventure. Living like a pro, being looked after by John. It was all amazing. Massive thanks to John. Having a van and someone to drive and assist with everything; from our bikes to attending ‘managers’ race briefings, just took out a huge level of stress and we could concentrate on racing.
I think john would like a team car next time….
Miles Butler and Will Beresford riding up the Tourmalet during the Etape du Tour on Sunday. Both finished in 5hr 46 on a really tough day in the mountains, placing them 239th and 241st respectively from over 9000 starters.
Gunther won the 2014 Ras de Cymru on Sunday 13th July by finishing 2nd on the final stage. The 5-day stage race for 100 cat 2,3 and 4 riders comprises mainly of four man (or women) teams.
Phoenix were represented by Gunther along with Dave Bird, Jason Creswell and Miles Butler. The race began on Wednesday 9th July with a team time trial. Phoenix put in a solid ride to finish just in the top half of a closely contested stage with very small time gaps. The team thought Gunther had a good chance of a high general classification finish, but were all surprised when an opportunistic move during the final of Thursday’s 2nd stage put him in the yellow race leader’s jersey.
Friday saw a morning hilly road stage followed by an individual TT with a hill climb finish. Gunther finished safely in the bunch in the morning before placing an impressive 2nd in the afternoon TT. In the process he recorded the fastest time of the day on the climb and would be in yellow for another day.
On Saturday a successful break away win meant there would be no Phoenix rider in yellow for Sunday’s final stage. But the team were quietly confident as the stage would culminate with a 6km ascent of the Brecon Beacons and Gunther was climbing as well as anyone, and better than his closest GC riders.
On Sunday a benign two man break went away comprising of two London Dynamo riders. The rest of the contenders seemed happy to let it drift off and there were no fireworks until the foot of Llangynidr mountain by which stage the break had been caught. Gunther along with Stephen Williams, a light weight climber from Wales Youth Team, set about shredding the peloton and by half way up the climb the two were clear. Now it was just about riding as hard as possible putting time into the other GC contenders. Williams was gifted the win at the summit, but Gunther had done more than enough to win the overall classification.
The Ras de Cymru is the most prestigious regional category event in the calender and just about the most significant win possible in a cat 2 field. The points from the race mean Gunther won’t have the chance to defend next year, as he is now cat 1.
Bella, Tamala and Michelle F all took part in event with just under 50 starters of all ages and cats. There were fears that the race would stay together for the duration.
Bella’s aim was stay near the front, to 1) stay safe and 2) be near good wheels so if a break went, she had chance of being in it. The first few laps saw people having a dig here and there, with Bella having a dig on the hill and being off the front a couple of times. Tamala was doing a fab job of mixing it up with the lead group and on one of the corners Bella offered her wheel and they moved further up together.
On the penultimate lap there were still around 18-20 in the lead group. As they approached the hill the penultimate time, Bella and a few others put in the effort to get over, carry momentum through and started to drill it. Bella looked behind, saw a few other riders had made it on and they had a gap. There were now 9, including Dame Sarah Storey. They started through and off to try and maintain the gap and maintained it. Initially 18 seconds then up to 1 minute 14. Approaching the finish, before the hill, the pace slowed significantly as everyone was getting ready to sprint. Bella got 6th overall and 2nd in her age cat behind Sarah Storey. Excellent result!
Tamala worked well in the main bunch doing a lot of the pacing and came a very well placed 17th overall, 4th in age group. Michelle stuck with the fast paced main bunch for almost 30km finishing in a chase group, 9th in her age category.
Excellent work girls!
Everyone who entered was overwhelmed by the effort that went into the organisation and running of this race. The number of people, the amount of effort, the care and attention to every detail. All from volunteers.
Gunther Zechmann, Miles Butler, Jason Creswell and Dave Bird representing Phoenix at the Ras. Gunter is in yellow after stage 4. The final stage happens today. Good look guys!
Michelle S and Mhairi headed out to Guildford last night for the town centre crit. This was a LWCR league race which also took in cobbled section. Mhairi decided that she would try get to the front from the off as it is a tight fast circuit that gets strung out quickly. She got an ok start but already after the first corner was far back and the front riders were on the next corner about 50m away. So she threw herself round the corners and on the first time up the cobbles through the finish line she put the hammer down to move up. She kept going and on the second time round she just went right up the line to the front. It turned out this was a good plan as already within a few laps the field was decimated and soon realised there were only 6 left. Then there were 4, then there were 3. It was super fast, 55s per lap! She used attack as the best form of defence and attacked downhill into the tight corner to make a gap so the other two couldn’t attack on the uphill cobbles. This worked well and she hung on. One rider started attacking about 10 mins from the end and Mhairi just closed them down gradually. The same rider attacked on the bell and Mhairi couldn’t make it back, but came in 3rd. Michelle was on the wrong side of the splits early on but then stormed through the field picking riders off all the way managed to get her way back into the group. This ended in a bunch sprint with Michelle bagging 11th or 12th.
On Saturday 29th March the London Phoenix ladies kicked off their London Women’s League campaign with round 1 at Hog Hill. It was the first real points race for some of the group and a good chance to test out some of the race skills picked up at the training session held a few weeks ago. For others it was a chance to build on previous race lessons and also aim for a good result for the team. With Bella, Mhairi, Aoife, Nancy, Petra and Tamala all racing, London Phoenix were well represented and even had a cheering squad there for back up. Thanks to all who came to support!
There was a smaller field than expected, with only 30ish riders, however there was no lack of strength and many of the region’s stronger riders were there, including team from Les Filles. The game plan was to stick with the bunch as long as possible, avoid doing too much work on the front and for Mhairi and Bella to attack on the hill if the opportunities arose.
The pace on the Hoggenberg was pretty feisty from the off and that whittled the group down a fair bit quite quickly. Bella and Mhairi stayed with the front group until a further couple of kicks split things apart again, finishing in 7th and 9th respectively. Aoife found herself on her own behind the main group after a few too many fast paced ascents, later joining Petra and a smaller group, where there were a few attempts to drop the two Phoenix riders, which failed. The final lap saw the group split on the hill with Aoife finishing 12th and Petra 15th. It was Tamala and Nancy’s first points race and both ended up doing mega solo efforts on a windy Hog hill. Tamala battled on to finish a tough but well fought first race, finishing in 17th.
All in all Phoenix showed some solid team strength with a great set of results for the series opener. Bring on round 2!
Also racing at Hog Hill that day were a number of the Phoenix guys who showed great form in both the men’s 3/4, the E/1/2 and on cheer leading duties. Thanks guys.
We are a group of London-based cyclists, who get together for races and training rides. We have a website forum as our virtual clubhouse, and instead of regular weekly club rides from a set place we arrange to meet up for mountain bike, road or cyclocross rides, races and time trials from a variety of venues. We also meet up socially every month.